Jesse Cook and his flamenco guitar playing has been known in some parts of the world for a few years now, but he only seemed to make a slight breakthrough with his rendition of the Crowded House tune "Fall at Your Feet". The song, which also featured Rembrandts singer Danny Wilde, moved more into the pop or adult contemporary mainstream, but it hasn't prevented Cook from continually staying on the side of his infectious "world" music. And this new disc, with more collaboration, is no different. The opening "Prelude" has more in common with Middle Eastern than Latin rhythms, especially thanks to Maryem Tollar's vocals. You can almost envision the sand being blown across a vast desert. But as it fades it moves into "Qadukka-L-Mayyas", a percussion-driven tune that could be found in Sting's current catalog of songs. Cook uses the percussion to offset his meticulous guitar playing on a tune that was written only 900 years ago during the Andelusian Period. Think of the Gypsy Kings raised in Cairo and you have the idea.
"Surrender" returns to Cook's instrumental prowess, with only hints of lush orchestrated strings in the distance. Resembling his interpretation of "Kashmir", the tune's cinematic sway is great. And the flow is also quite good, never falling flat at any point. This is rather amazing, considering the album as a whole was recorded in seven cities and on three continents. The leadoff single, "Early on Tuesday", is definitely pop radio friendly and features Sam Llanas and Kurt Neumann (better known to most as the BoDeans) on lead vocals. The song mixes both the rougher roots flavor with the infectious flamenco melody and handclaps throughout. The sound itself is fairly decent, but could be helped with less instrumentation for a sparser, intimate recording.
"Beloved" returns to the vibe felt on "Prelude" and "Qadukka-L-Mayyas", heavily inspired by Middle Eastern sounds. Here Cook doesn't do very much to take the song along, relying instead on Chris Church's violin to pull the song together. "This one could be called the out-take song", Cook says in the liner notes. "It was put together using all the out-takes from the Cairo sessions with some material from the London sessions." Unfortunately, it does sound like an out-take. "Waiting for Tide" gets going early and has more of a quasi hip-hop groove to it, but that might be a stretch. Darboukas and other Arabic and Brazilian percussion is the background for the song's fluidity. It does tend to stall halfway through, but corrects itself with a fine solo from Cook and an alluring, hypnotic tempo.
"Down like Rain", which features another collaboration with Rembrandts' singer Danny Wilde, is definitely a return to the lovable Crowded House milieu. Wilde's vocals are always top-notch, but the flamenco style is more adventurous on this song, with Cook moving into slightly different territory. "Leila" has what might be the "remix" component all over it. A toe-tapper from the start, the song's aura leads directly into Cook's playing and then a well-rounded sound emanating after the first minute. It moves again into Middle Eastern horns for the bridge, which is a bold but fine decision. The only mistake on the album thus far is the ballad or soft lullaby "Maybe", with Flora Purim's vocals not blending perfectly with the music. "I see you walking down the street / I look at you, you look at me", she sings, but it just doesn't work.
The ambient title track marks the final quarter of this dozen-track disc. And the softer, Madonna circa Frozen blueprint seems misplaced. More instruments build atop the sound, but the style seems to compensate for a missing intangible. Had either the tin whistles or accordion been the backbone of the song, things could be different. After a mediocre "Worlds Away", "Toca Orilla" ends the record with the same enticing rhythms that opened the record, although the flamenco style is more pronounced. Cook continues to make interesting albums, and this record is no different. The world music answer to the Robert Plant and Jimmy Page album No Quarter.